The most challenging position in any fundraising program is the Major Gift Officer. The most difficult to hire position in any fundraising program is also the Major Gift Officer. Why?
In a typical non-profit, the MGO has sizable responsibility for revenue and high-level relationship fundraising, but (usually) none of the authority of decision making, establishing the fundraising targets, and getting access to high level organizational leadership.
This is not a job that most would want, nor be particularly good at. Great MGOs are rare and very well-compensated, when they are successful. They tend to thrive in large institutions with plentiful prospects. They are self-starters, don’t need a lot of coaching, and are fearless in asking and closing.
Probably you cannot afford to hire a qualified major gift officer as a solution for your fundraising program, and even if you could, no truly qualified professional would want to come work for you.
The temptation is great to hire a major gift officer to tackle a fundraising challenge (campaign, budget shortfall and so on) is common. Why? Often board members have had lovely experiences with MGOs from their alma mater or the hospital foundation, and have the reasonable belief that if your organization could hire a person like that, the money will soon follow. And so I’ve had many a conversation over the years with board members who think that we simply need to pay (bribe?) enough to steal away the university’s all-star fundraiser. That might mean a $150,000+ salary, unlimited vacation time, a private office, and so on.
Forget about it.
Instead of offering a massive salary to the long-tenured gift officer from the local hospital, let’s reconsider. You probably cannot afford top shelf talent. Even if you could, it is difficult to recruit talented gift officers (the hospital will probably match your salary offer to keep their talent) and even harder to retain good gift officers given the year by year challenges and heavy expectations of most fundraising programs.
Leaders of non-profits, It is time to become your own Major Gift Officer. It is cheaper and more fun to do the work yourself, but it won’t be easy to begin. You will need to:
- Reassign as many administrative duties as you can. That might mean you need to hire an operations person to run the day to day. And you know what? That’s a lot easier (and cheaper) to hire (or better yet, promote from within) a managing or operations director as an organizational number two to free up fundraising time. It also gives your operations and people opportunities for growth, including potential future leaders (you aren’t getting any younger). And when you do promote an Operations person, DELEGATE as much as you can, even the stuff you love dearly.
- Hire an Executive Assistant. Almost gone are the days of Assistants who manage schedules, coordinate activity and calendars. Get one of these unicorns while you can. The easiest way to schedule a meeting between busy presidents is to get two Assistants working on it. Magic.
- Dedicate yourself to fundraising activity EACH and EVERY day. Every day should include fundraising activity and personal contact with individual donors. Why not spend 30 minutes per day calling donors at every level? How about an hour? Did I tell you about the plumbing company CEO that called me to thank me for my business?
- Keep your Calendar open to the Development Department. Whenever I hear of a CEO or ED whose calendar is difficult to access by the fundraising department, I know there is trouble engaging the leadership into vital fundraising. Open your calendar. Let your staff fill your days with meaningful cultivation activities. And asks. And stewardship with the old ladies. And $5,000 lunches.
Or you can underpay and underperforming major gift officer and anticipate a mixed result. Be your own Major Gift Officer!